The self-esteem and confidence issues that plague you in high school do lessen in early adulthood, but their residue can grow and mutate into another form of ugly that will have you skipping out on opportunities, in unhealthy friendships or romantic relationships, letting fear keep you from things that will help you grow, stifling your identity, able to be easily manipulated and woefully indecisive. Not believing in myself enough has stopped me from pursuing my passions because I don’t believe my dreams are in reach. When I have great opportunities presented to me, I downplay my talents, thinking they’re not up to par. Who knows what advantageous ideas or details I haven’t and don’t think of because I go into things with a defeated attitude. I could be subconsciously causing myself to fail before I even begin. I don’t have any fire-proof anecdotes on how to overcome low confidence, unfortunately. What I can offer, however, is that comparing yourself to other people will make things worse, don’t beat yourself up too long for any disappointments or failures, and congratulate yourself for even the smallest things you do well or are good about you. Everyone is good at and good for something; the cliché` is true.
“…We often block our own blessings because we don’t feel inherently good enough or smart enough or pretty enough or worthy enough. You’re worthy because you are born and because you are here. Your being here, your being alive makes worthiness your birthright. You alone are enough.”-Oprah
I believe balance is the most essential key to a functioning, thriving life. Everything in moderation; operating in extremes is guaranteed to shoot you in the foot. When interviewing people for this article, many said there was either too much or too little of a particular thing. Don’t be all work and no play or all play and no work. Don’t spend all your time with your mate instead of your friends and vice-versa. Lack of balance has come to be one of the biggest problems in my life; being too optimistic, too cynical, all up in church, not going at all, all about one career, all about another one, too focused on the future, too focused on the present. Keeping myself in one spectrum works for a while, but eventually, it always ends up being a disadvantage.
Time flies and everything happens so fast to the point that you might not indulge in the simple things that great memories are made of or appreciate and respect the things and people that you should. Take time out to do that. Start a gratitude journal, documenting things that you’re grateful for each day or each week. It sounds cheesy, but when I feel like I have nothing and my life seems like it’s in shambles, I find hope in what I write.
When making decisions, learn the difference between impulse and instinct and don’t be afraid to take time. Young people are notorious for pressing fast-forward. What’s the rush? Why is everything so immediate? Some of the best things are developed with time. One of my sayings is “A season is longer than that! You can’t even have a baby in that time period!” When you have reservations about something, learn the difference between legitimate concern and plain old fear. I’ve scared myself out of plenty of things and masked it as valid concern.
“If you don’t take the time to think about it, analyze your life, you’ll never realize all of the dots that are all connected…I believe everything in our life, every person in our life…every relationship…everything is there for a reason and when you really pay attention, there’s certain little clues we get; it’s so crystal clear what the next step is. It’s like a puzzle; everything is in it right place and as we grow, we take the next step, the dots get connected and eventually we become what we’re supposed to be.”-Beyonce`
As far as identity, I believe there are foundational elements in everyone’s personality that stay constant, but some things will definitely change. You won’t be the same person at 18 that you were at 14. You won’t be the same person at 21 that you were at 18, and you most likely will be a different creature at 25 than at 21. That clear, all the people who met you at those different ages will have various perspectives on who you are and will make judgments. Some won’t let you shake who you used to be, while others might misunderstand your current place because they didn’t know you back then. Reinvention is hard and you’ll spend a lot of time trying to explain yourself. How you view yourself rarely matches how others perceive you. The harshest critic is going to be yourself, however. No matter what you came from, did or are doing, know that you have the power define yourself any way you like at anytime. It will be frustrating when others don’t get with the program, but as long as you know who you are, survival is imminent. Learn to forgive yourself. Learn from your past, even if the past was last week, and use it as a tool to fuel your future. Own what you are and what you have been. Don’t fake the funk. Don’t get caught up in being arrogant or defensive. When you really own the past and present, no one can use it as a weapon against you. Someone brings up the fact that you used to strip, remind them the key phrase is “used to.” If you’re still stripping, invite them to the show; they might learn something.
“Nobody but you is responsible for your life. It doesn’t matter what your mama did; it doesn’t matter what your daddy didn’t do. You are responsible for your life.”-Oprah
Passions, Careers & College
For most college-age people, deciding what career or life path to choose is the biggest dilemma. One year you have a plan and know what you want out of life, the next year you don’t; especially if your plan gets derailed. Picking a career seems like it has so much finality to it, but here’s the reality: it’s not. Even after you’ve acquired a degree or specialization, you will have tons of different jobs with various companies. No two jobs are going to be completely identical, especially in this economy. While that reality appears scarily unstable, the beauty is that you have freedom and won’t get stuck if you don’t enjoy something. All of that being said, be flexible and versatile. One of my biggest regrets is that I put so much energy and focus into being a therapist that I didn’t consider any other options, so when I lost interest in counseling, I was lost and had no idea what to do next. I still kind of don’t know. I had to start all over. Cater to all of your different interests as much as you can. Have a plan A, B, C and D. Don’t limit yourself to one role.
Some people don’t know what their passions, talents or interests are or think they don’t have any. Not true. As I said before, everyone is good at something and has preferences for what they enjoy. Some don’t acknowledge their passions or interests because they feel they can’t make a career out of it or they’re worried about what others will think of it. When people ask me what I want to do, I’m always hesitant. It’s so hard for me to say that I want to have a hand in finding recording artists and helping them build their sound and brand. What you love is what you love. Embrace it. Don’t ignore, deny or alter your dreams to serve anyone else’s standards or expectations. This is YOUR life, and if you design your whole life around satisfying others and not yourself, you won’t forgive yourself when you approach 30. Also, set your own priorities as to what’s most important in your life and job; flexibility? Income? Benefits? Enjoyment? All of it? There’s really no right or wrong answer. As for the battle of passion versus logical and practical, again, balance is key. Don’t pass on a pursuit simply because it isn’t “practical.” Try to integrate logic into your passionate decision. I know a lot of disgruntled and unfulfilled 20-somethings who went 100% practical and 0% passionate.
Know that college is not guaranteed to give you purpose or direction. Your experiences may lead you to that, but college in of itself can’t do that for you. I believe that purpose lies within your passions. While in college, manage your money well (read money management books if necessary), have fun, study hard, get to know people with a dissimilar background than yours and take advantage of free services on campus. There are too many “educated” people who know nothing about the world outside of their own community and culture. When I was in graduate school, I noticed so many of the undergraduate students only hung out with others from the same city, of the same race, economic background, religion and sexual orientation. I wondered how much those people would grow. I found it profoundly enriching to be around those vastly different than myself; it strengthened my character and made me more wise and compassionate. As for free services on campus, talk to your advisors, build relationships with your professors, visit the guidance office and after you leave there, stop by the counseling center (therapy is expensive once you’re out of college). All of these departments can help you on your way.
“I'm different, I can’t base what I'm gonna be off a what everybody isn’t, they don’t listen, just whispering behind my back, no vision, lack of ambition, so whack.”-Jay-Z (So Ambitious)
At 18 or 21, friendships can either be a solid foundation or the death of you. Be selective. Just because you have 1 or 2 common interests with someone, it doesn’t mean you have to be “BFF’s” and spend a lot of time with the person. Watch the energy they bring to other’s lives and the energy you emit. Life does not have to be a soap opera. Stay away from high-drama and if you’re the one bringing the drama, chill yourself out. It isn’t that crucial. Get that chip off of your shoulder and pick your battles. Don’t have so many hang ups. Whether you’re the drama queen or not, watch your karma. Be careful with how you treat people and the things you say and do. Don’t be careless and inconsiderate with other’s emotions and hearts and don’t tolerate people who are reckless with yours. Don’t project your insecurities or anger on others; don’t be the poster child for misplaced energy or grudges. Don’t be vengeful; let go of an “eye for an eye.” Learn how to say “I’m sorry” and communicate. In arguments, try not to invalidate or negate, and don’t care so much about winning or being “right.” When it comes to people worth keeping in your life, would you much rather be right or preserve your relationship? Be able to appropriately conclude whether you’re going through a rough patch with a friend or in deal-breaker territory.
Watch co-dependence. Yes, people can teach you a lot and bring positive things into your life, but be sure to learn from them so that, heaven forbid you part, you can carry the torch on your own.
Don’t try to save anyone. You will end up emotionally tapped-out, unhappy or stifling your own growth trying to be something you are not: Superman. The things it takes to heal or resolve one’s wounds, voids or issues are bigger than you. It’s only when people are their own cure that they succeed. You can be a supporting agent, but it’s impossible to be the cure. Additionally, stepping into the role of hero makes you easy bait for takers who don’t know how to give, co-dependence or beating yourself up if you fail and who wants that?
Self-preservation is not being mean. You’re not being a bad person if you end or distance yourself from relationship that is not conducive to your well-being and zaps your energy.
Reciprocity is important. Make sure people are giving you 100% and that’s what you give others. Also, have reasonable expectations.
Don’t do things just because they’re the norm. This seems like a given, but in a lot of small ways, people adapt to, accept or exhibit certain behaviors without questioning because it’s a norm in their environment. For example, a friend of mine concluded that her romantic relationships didn’t last long because she was intimate with each person early on. She said within her social circle, sex after a few dates was normal and nothing to analyze, so she never pondered on it. She feels that maybe if she challenged the norm, she wouldn’t have had so many sexual encounters that she now regrets. When deciding when to challenge norms or step out of your comfort zone, carefully consider the pros and cons of each frame of thought.
For more on my personal experience with my friendships, click here.
Beware of stagnation. When confused, one doesn’t know how to move or is too scared to move. There’s nothing wrong with slowing down or giving yourself a pause break, but don’t get too used to being on pause. It can happen easily. Make a move doing something, even if it’s small, and revisit the goals you have in mind often.
For all the control freaks, life does what it wants to do. Try to be less rigid with your expectations. Anticipate different outcomes.
Argue with that doubtful or negative voice in your head. Don’t give into to that prick. Stay holding your breath, crossing your fingers and wishing on stars. It’s not too late. Even when your plate has gotten full and certain things are already in motion, get creative and find ways to scoot the green beans over an inch. We will get through this.
Other interesting quotes from interviews:
“I would tell myself (or any 21 year old) to trust my gut. I spent too much time waiting for someone else to tell me that I was doing the right thing but deep down, I knew I was doing the right thing. I wish I hadn't wasted time looking for answers in other people. “
"Consider investing those thousands of dollars in a small business instead of college. That would have been a loss though, because I wouldn't have met so many great people.”
“I would say follow your heart and not your friends. Do what you want to do and have fun. Live your life and don't worry about settling down yet; there will be time for that later. Live a little and lighten up. Travel and have fun!!”
“I will tell myself to have fun, travel, go to college for something meaningful that you really like to do, save as much money as possible and go with the first instinct regarding people and life.”
“Finish school girl, your boyfriend will still be there.”
“Everyone is not for you; not even those closest to you! Invest! It's ok to be different and have different goals than your friends. Stop holding onto things and people that hurt you!”
“Hug your grandmother more....do things your way you'll be fine…ten yrs from now it all will make sense!
“Always be able to take care of yourself; never count on anyone else to do it.”
“If you go to college, FOCUS!!! Forget being in love!!! Love will come in due time! Focus on bettering yourself! Set a plan and accomplish it! Stop procrastinating!”
To see what actress Phylicia Rashad (AKA Claire Huxtable from “The Cosby Show”) would say to her 21-year-old self, click here.